If you are following this blog for more than a year you might remember this painting from last June. The posts about the painting are here and here. My art material supplier, Cork Art Supplies, are running a competition and I entered this painting. I was lucky to be selected as a finalist and the final decision on a winner will be based on the number of Facebook ‘Likes’.
The finalists can be seen here. If you have the time to have a look at the finalists please do so, and if you feel I deserve a ‘Like’, I would appreciate it.
Having said that, I hate competitions, especially for art related items. What each person likes or doesn’t in art is a personal matter and no one person is more qualified that the next to say what is good or bad. At least in this competition its a democratic decision by Facebook users. I know very little about how Facebook works, but I believe if you want to promote your work its a good place to be.
Anyway, above is the final painting and here, and more importantly, is how it was done. See you soon.
The history of the demise of this tree can be seen in its contorted shape. A long time ago, possibly 80 years, the stream undermined this ash tree and it fell. However it survived and continued to grow, changing its direction of growth to vertical. At the same time a previously minor lower branch became the dominant trunk and as most of the effort of growth was directed into this branch the original tree died. What I liked about this scene was the reflections of the unusual shapes produced by this little drama of life and death.
I haven’t painted a vertical shaped painting in a while as the landscape shape suits the shape of the video screen. This arrangement worked out well as most of what was happening on the palette could be seen as the painting progressed. As I have said before I like to let colours evolve from one into the next in a progression. In actual fact the entire painting is painted from the same ‘pool’ of colour. I say ‘pool’ because of the amount of solvent I’m using.
Not all the paint mixes are this wet. Sometimes the initial very wet solvent layers are allowed to evaporate before completely dry paint is brushed on top. This is how I paint the sky or any part of the painting needing a soft treatment (the under colour of the river was also solvent rich). When it comes to details as in branches or grasses the paint flows like watercolour (with solvent of course). As I said in the last post this is not the traditional method of oil painting and is only safe (from later cracking or flaking) if applied as a single wet layer, ‘alla prima’ as its called.
For beginners this is difficult as there are no ways of covering up or wiping off mistakes. You get one shot at painting that tree into the wet sky so it has to be left as you put it down, warts and all. But isn’t this how watercolour artists work, so its not an impossible skill to master with practice.
The colours are Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Umber and French Ultramarine Blue plus black and white. I’m not using any medium at all, only solvent.
Bluebells like shade. They are happiest in the deep woods where they have little competition from other plants. Here there were trees and in their shade was a small colony of these beautiful wild flowers. After recent storms many of the old trees fell and were taken away for firewood. Its only a matter of time until these flowers are choked by the new growth of the hardier ‘light loving’ plants. The remaining bluebells are strongest in the areas of shadow cast by the surviving trees.
I painted the tree on the right by placing drops of solvent rich paint onto the wet paint of the background sky. Before the solvent evaporated I used a fine brush to drag this paint into the shapes of branches. The solvent partially lifted the under layer and as the branch got smaller and smaller the line almost faded out. This produced the most delicate branches. This effect, and the gentle application of colour onto the background sky to represent the spring growth of leaves, produced this tree ravaged by storms but still surviving and preparing for summer.
As usual I used only 3 colours (Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine) plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits and loads of this. You might think that this solvent method will finally produces a painting of extremely thin and delicate paint layers. In fact the multiple layers placed one on top of the other does add up and although this effect makes an image thin and flimsy the paint is quite heavy. Remember this is all done in a single painting session, ‘wet on wet’. If individual layers were allowed to dry before proceeding to the next (traditional oil painting) all the problems associated with ‘fat over lean’ would lead to a brittle paint layer liable to crack and flake off.
On the subject of flaking off, stretched canvas is the most unstable surface on which to paint. It is in a constant state of stretching and shrinking. Linen canvas is the best for stretching but even this tightens in times of high humidity and loosens in dry conditions. Oil paint has to be flexible with a good amount of medium to survive this. So the advice to use linen and loads of medium for important paintings is sound in this situation. I mention this because many of the time honoured rules like ‘fat over lean’ and using linen only apply in certain circumstances. I mount my loose canvas onto a rigid board when the painting is dry and then I varnish it. The actual type of canvas does not matter provided it has been properly sealed and primed. So the linen or cotton rule is irrelevant. Also, the ‘fat over lean’ rule does not apply to the above method as there is only a single paint layer, applied in a single application.
Lord De Vesci’s magnificent mansion, which stands within a mile of the town of Abbeyleix, was built in the year 1774. It is in private ownership and only opens to the public 1 day a year. I was here 3 years ago and have done a few paintings on this subject in that time (here is one).
I am still striving to be less ‘heavy’ in recent paintings. A few months ago I stopped using black as I attributed it to the sombre look in the work. Recently, however, I’ve reintroduced black and am careful not to overuse it especially in shadows. Generally black is not considered a colour and this and white are regarded as neutral additions to an oil painting. I think the way I use it is more like the way I use the colours. Its in the details picked out in the landscape in contrast to the lighter tones. This is like the watercolour method where details are painted last over a series of lighter washes of colour. At the moment I like this sketchy watercolour look in these oil paintings. The nature of oil paint does tend to lend itself to heavy ‘blocky’ paintings. As usual I’m using loads of solvent and no medium. Some of the paints are Alkyd oils and the extra transparency is a bonus especially in the thinly painted areas. Even painting over already painted areas (and these are still wet), as in the foreground grasses, produces a glowing colour.
The colours used were Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue plus black and white.
Its a little more like spring in the traditional sense, soft rain and luscious growth.
I decided to soften the painting style for this subject. There are parts that have a ‘watercolour’ look, in the sky and the trees on the right. I remember producing a sky like this in watercolour by soaking the paper and building up the paint by dropping the paint onto the wet paper and letting it spread. Although this sky looks like this form of a watercolour sky, the method in oils is quite different and requiring a lot more work. The rest of the soft areas also need brushing and blending to produce an effect which is so simple in watercolours.
In the final stages the paint was flowing like ink with so much solvent used. This is how I get those really sharp fine lines. In the thicker lines the wet under paint is often lifted producing a channel into which I can drop the ‘inky’ paint. As in watercolour there are accidental and random effects when the paint starts to flow, sometimes mixing with and other times completely filling the channel with a thin transparent layer of paint.
The colours used were Cadmium Yellow, Raw Umber and Cobalt Blue plus black and white. I used no medium but plenty of solvent.
Here is the video of the painting process, see you soon.
On these dry, cold and windy days we get a flashback of the past winter. In recent paintings I began to use colours like Cadmium Yellow to express the colourful growth of Spring. Here I used ‘Winter’ colours to paint the brightness and promise, hopefully, of finer days to come.
The 3 colours I used here were, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Cerulean Blue. This blue is a mild warm colour, not good in mixes to produce green or purples so the overall end result is blues and browns, ideal for this subject. As you probably know I use Alkyd fast drying oil colours. Some colours, like Cerulean, are not available in the Alkyd range. The Cerulean is a ‘hue’ for some reason. Maybe its OK but in these cases I use the traditional oil colour. Alkyd and and ordinary oils are compatible when mixed but should not painted in distinct layers (each dry before the next is applied) with the Alkyd as the final. Alkyd dries so fast it would retard the final drying of under layers of ordinary oils. As my method is ‘alls prima’ the paint get well mixed before they are applied as a single layer.
The Alkyd colours tend to be more transparent than their equivalent oil colours. This was noticeable when painting the blue of the sky. The white, which was Alkyd Titanium, added a transparency to the blue mix which is not usual for the very opaque Cerulean Blue. It looks more like the Cobalt or Ultramarine blues in terms of transparency, very nice for this sky.
After a relatively mild and wet winter the blossoms are early this year. The May Bush, or Hawthorn, is in bloom. As the name suggests this normally flowers in the month of May.
Painting flowers requires a paint colour appropriate to the particular flower. The richness cannot be suggested by the ‘dull’ colours I normally use. In this painting, the pink of the apple blossom was achieved by using Alizarin Crimson. The other colours in the painting were Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine.
There are a few very strong colours which can dominate a painting and upset the harmony of colour. Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow or Viridian Green are three that come to mind. In the natural world there is a natural harmony of colour. I have found that in a painting just matching what I think I’m seeing and throwing in an array of colour never creates a natural landscape painting. It must be something to do with the fact we are conscious we are not looking at the real thing but an interpretation. We are viewing a rectangle of various pigments playing at being a real world.
The crimson in the middle of a area of green would be a jarring combination of colour. To lessen this unpleasant combination I made the overall colour slightly purple by using French Ultramarine (a purple blue) and spread the crimson as much as possible throughout the entire painting. Viewed on its own its not noticeably purple and the crimson of the blossoms are not out of place or alien to the general scene, but viewed beside the last painting the difference in the overall colouring is very noticeable.
Apple Blossom Days
I’ve included two thumbnail photos of this painting and the last one to show the overall colours relative to each other. In the previous painting the use of Cadmium Yellow was the issue. In today’s painting, although Cadmium Yellow was also used, its the crimson that would have unhinged the harmony more than the yellow.
Its the time of year for painting trees. The leaf buds have just opened but are not numerous enough yet, to conceal the branches. In celebration of the lush growth I’ve used Cadmium Yellow instead of the usual Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna to produce richer greens. As usual with such a strong colour I’ve tried to spread it as much as possible, especially in the sky, to maintain a harmony of colour throughout the painting.
In planning the painting I was interested in the shapes of the trees and so I needed to isolate them from the background. I didn’t want to use a ‘photographic’ blur in the distance, so although the distance is not sharply defined I painted a few details sharply (the tree trunks) to produce a ‘human eye’ scene and not what a camera sees. Another design trick was to have a lighter tone in the distance. Finally, the viewpoint was low enough to raise the hedgerow and silhouette it against the sky and distant forest.
The colours used are Cadmium Yellow, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue plus black and white. I’ve not used any medium just solvent. This, I think, helps a lot in keeping the loose and sketchy look to the painting. Sometimes a medium, even Liquin, produces a ‘stickiness’ which makes painting heavy and stodgy.
Here’s the video of the painting process. See you soon.
This peculiar ruin, a well known landmark, is on the road between Castledermot and Baltinglass. Its unusual because its so tall, possibly 3 storeys with 2 tall chimney stacks, and for an 18th century farm house this is unusual. For such an enduring structure I don’t when, or why, it was abandoned. Possibly as a result of a fire, or maybe several fires, as the roof was probably thatched.
I decided to set the scene with a dramatic morning sky. This was not what it was like when I photographed the scene. That day there was a drizzling fog and not at all in keeping with what I had remembered it like the last time I passed this way. On that occasion it was a clear bright morning and what a sight was presented as I rounded the corner and was confronted by this ghostly shell of a house.
I used 3 simple colours here, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue. I knew the green produced by this yellow and blue would be just right for this early morning light. Green always produces problems if painted as a monotonous layer as it tends to dominate a painting. I made sure to have as many colours as possible underneath the green before finally laying it down. Some of the under colour mixed with the green and in other places I didn’t completely cover the under layer.
As there are only 3 colours used and the same yellow and blue were also used in the sky, there is a green tinge in the sky. This is not too noticeable as a green colour, as the solid version of this green is so close by on the middle distance ground. What is noticeable is the harmony between the sky and ground colours. A distinct advantage of a limited palette.
This unusual and wind bent tree is on the shores of Glendalough in County Wicklow. When I need a break from the flat land of Kildare I travel a few miles east to this mountainous part of Ireland. Glendalough is a popular tourist location and a must-see for overseas visitors. Apart from the spectacular scenery, the remains of the monastic settlement (founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century) give an idea of the importance of this ‘Monastic City’ 1500 years ago.
The colours I used when I started this painting were Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Blue, similar to the last painting. However as I began to paint in the foreground, I couldn’t get the richness and depth of colour needed. The 3 colours produce beautiful harmonious colours and are great when suggesting a landscape running into the distance. Trying to overpaint a foreground, as in the line of trees, in the same limited range of colour is going to cause problems.
I use Olive Green as it is rich and dark and a similar shade of green as that produced by Yellow Ochre and Cobalt. Even as a neat unmixed colour it has a natural green colour.
I am using fine ‘liner brushes’ (used by sign writers) at the moment to help with the really fine lines of branches and grasses. I tried Liquin Fine Line and didn’t find it great for my application. My technique is to thin the paint with solvent only, to the consistency of ink. More fluid than the wet paint onto which I’m painting. If its not this thin, the brush will pick up paint rather than put it down. Draw the lines with a flicking action, rotating the brush. It takes a bit of practice, but its worth the effort.